Superstitions across Baseball and the Effect on Performance
New York Yankee player jumping over the foul line after the completion of an inning.
September 9, 1969: Ron Santo is on deck waiting to bat while eyeing a black cat running behind him on the field.
Backstory and Context
Many superstitions that have appeared in baseball have come up throughout many regions of the United States. Multiple interviews with players in the major leagues took place throughout many parts of time in the middle of the 20th century. These interviewers were interested to discover whether or not certain superstitions really did play a significant part in how players perceived and played the game. In his interview case, Terry McNulty discussed various forms of superstitious acts that baseball players would live by in their own unique fashion that they personally believed would help them become better ballplayers. McNulty interviewed multiple players extensively across the state of Illinois in 1966 and offers insight into a multitude of different ballplayers that had certain superstitious beliefs attributed to their game. In the paper, one of the interviewees named Vince Lloyd talks about a second-hand account involving a former Chicago Cubs player, Ron Santo, in Park Ridge, Illinois. One superstition that seemed to “bother him the most” involved “the Cubs third baseman, Ron Santo, who steps on third base at the end of each inning” (McNulty, 1966). When Vince was able to ask Ron later on after the game why he would do such a thing, Ron replied: “I have been doing it since I started in Little League and it has brought me a lot of good luck so far.” It seems as though this is a personal endeavor for Ron as it was something he lived by that got him a long way, all the way to the majors, even though it may seem like a childish superstition. However, Ron believes this attributed to his good fortune, and that baseball has always been about luck and curses. This superstition truly seems to take its toll on Ron when later on Vince notes, “This can be shown to be true by the fact that he had one of his worst games last season when he forgot to touch third base after the third out had occurred. He struck out twice, and on a sure double, he was called out at first base for failure to touch it surrounding the bases” (McNulty, 1966). Based on the results from this one game, this seemingly random superstition really did have some effect on how well Ron would be performing. Whether or not the superstitions were true or not, they obviously had some sort of effect on Ron personally, even if it was just for one game. Another source from 1981 IU Spring Interview, also discusses the notion of stepping on third base. An IU player at the time was recorded as saying, “I always step on third every time” (P. P., 1981). This is something that the IU baseball team followed routinely. 15 years apart and we see two examples of the exact same superstitious act by 2 completely different players on completely different teams. This parallel supports the continuing appearances and efforts of superstitions in baseball.
Another superstition that has struck many different areas of baseball throughout the United States and across time has consistently been the unspoken rule of: “no stepping on the foul line.” From a first-hand account, this is one of the first and only important rules in high school baseball. This is viewed as a national baseball rule that is followed by many and known to be one of the most renowned baseball superstitions that still continues to this day. It is almost seen as common sense nowadays and those who don’t abide are shunned out. In an interview conducted by Gary Gates titled Carl Erskine talks about Baseball Tradition, Gary and Carl talk about the importance of not stepping on the chalk line and the consequences that one could suffer from doing it. They believe it is complete blasphemy to even think about stepping on the line and go as far as to say, “no player even with a tiny bit of superstition would ever step on a chalk line… never step on a chalk line” (Gates, 1961). This phrase and unwritten rule seem to be so well known to Carl that he couldn’t even imagine any ballplayer ever trying to consider thinking about stepping on the line even if they wanted to test their fate. Once again, another connecting parallel of this example is seen in the 1981 IU Spring Interview, which delves into superstitious acts that the IU baseball team followed in their club. One of the team’s most renowned rules for every player was “don’t step on the lines” (P. P., 1981). Not following this particular rule could lead to misfortunate events such as the player who stepped on it going hitless in that game, or even worse, the team who stepped on the line would go on an unforeseen losing streak. This very act in itself has been known to lead to unsuccessful seasons and bad mojo for any team that commits this act of disrupting the evenly chalked foul lines.
Baseball in itself has a wide array of these strange acts. The consistency and effectiveness are both very apparent when connected with the game itself. It comes to no surprise that the legacy of these superstitions continues today and has no end in sight. These superstitions make the game what it is. It makes the game unique, fun, and interesting for both the players and the audience. They have become embedded in the game to this day and are an essential part for any team to achieve success. Kim Boman discusses various superstitions in Superstitions of Baseball Players, and believes that there are 3 known types of superstitions that take place in the game. The 3 she defines include, “those beliefs that he brings with him from his main culture, the long-standing superstitions of the game, and his personal superstitions or eccentricities” (Boman, 1976). Baseball not only has the long-standing beliefs that have been discussed, but also personal beliefs that any player might be carrying with him across his baseball career, such as wearing a certain article of clothing for good luck or always consuming the same food before a game. The randomness and extensiveness of each individual superstition can go in any direction and create a sense of confidence for the player in that moment and even across their baseball career.
Boman, Kim. "Superstitions of Baseball Players" 75/171, U.S., Indiana, Marion Co., Indianapolis. IU Archives at Bloomington, Indiana. November 26, 1976.
Gates, Gary. "Carl Erskine talks about Baseball tradition" 74/18, N. America, U.S, Indiana. IU Archives at Bloomington, Indiana. June, 1961.
McNulty, Terry C. "GSC 313, Jordan" 67/82, N. America, U.S., Illinois. IU Archives at Bloomington, Indiana. January 29, 1966.
P., P. "1981 IU Spring Interview" 51/117, N. America, U.S., Indiana. IU Archives at Bloomington, Indiana. April, 1981.